Archive for December, 2008

New Year

December 31, 2008

New Years eve on the helpdesk was passing ever so slowly with a grand total of about four calls all day long, one of which was a wrong number.

At about three o’clock I heard an almighty Jurassic-park style roar that could only be a T-Rex stubbing its toe. I bravely ran, shrieking, into another room to find help.

“Did you just hear a f***ing dinosaur?”

“Don’t be so stupid Dave… it was an elephant”

Finally controlling my breathing and regaining a little composure I could see the logic; “ok, I’ll give you that, it is more likely to be an elephant rather than an extinct species but… did you hear the elephant? The one that must be on the high street and right outside?”

They had indeed.

A few minutes of debate (“perhaps it escaped from the zoo”, “it’s an al Quida invasion elephant”) and no further noise (or the building collapsing around us) we gave up worrying. The chances of it being an actual elephant/dinosaur was so small we didn’t bother to go out in the cold and investigate.

But this time next year….

T minus 70 days

December 28, 2008

Ok so a progress report…

Stuff Completed

  • Medical completed and “passed” (M day)
  • X ray completed and “passed” (X day)
  • VSO training completed and “not failed” (T day)
  • Flat notices etc handed in (G day)

All my visa forms are completed and in. My first immunisations done and the next set (Rabius and Meningitis) booked. Replacement birth cirtificate has also turned up (good old central records office). Dental booked and closeness to departure ok’d by VSO.

I have told work and discussed notice periods etc. My boss is being excellent about the whole thing.

Stuff Outstanding

Still no CRB though it is now “prioritised”. I obviously should have committed more crime and been easier to find.

Haven’t told the bank or tax office or sorted any powers of attorney or anything. It can wait.

Skills for Working in Development (SKWID)

December 28, 2008

’twas the weekend before Christmas and I did my second round of VSO training at Harborne Hall – the Health and Personal Security workshop (Thursday afternoon) and then Skills for Working in Development (Thursday night through to Monday afternoon).

Two people from my P2V course were on the same SKWID and it was great to see them and catch up – they’re both off in January (to Rwanda and Ethiopia) so made me feel like I had loads of time before I go. I also bumped into someone from my assessment day doing her P2V so that’s all four of our little assessment group that made it through.

As with P2V everyone was lovely and the trainers excellent throughout. Once again if there was a p***k in the room, and there always is with a group that size, it was me. Happy days.

The usual wide mix of skills and destinations (once again I was the only IT nerd). Met up with someone going to Namibia on the same date I am so we should be travelling and doing our in-country training together. She’s also going to the north of Namibia but about 500 miles East of me. Strangely she’s opted for the bright lights of a town with at least three resteraunts rather than the dusty more cultural charms of Opuwo.

Health and Personal Security consisted of learning the VSO injury-impact flowchart with questions such as “Has it gone black?” “Has it fallen off?” “What bit what?” and so on. Mozzies are bad, Rabies is double-plus-super-bad and you do not even want to joke about Rabid Mozzies, oh no.

On a serious note much talk of avoiding risky situations, group discussions, medical information and statistics. Most common reasons for medical repatriation – general stuff the same as you’d be hospitalised for at home; sprains, lacerations and broken bones etc. You will get sick, colds and flu at the very least and you will spend a not inconsiderable time c**pping through the eye of a needle. We’re all signed up now so there’s no sweet coating just the hard facts of where our personal idiocity and/or sense of adventure may lead us.

Around this time I discovered VSO had my job role listed as “Medical Officer”. I am aware one of the “selection dimensions” (and key things they keep re-iterating) is “adaptability” but I though this went a bit far. I am happy to give surgery a go but I would need at least google and YouTube. Job duly corrected to “IT Monkey”.

SKWID itself is however many days of all sorts of, well, skills you might need when working in development. This includes; corruption, conflict resolution, negotiation, participatory facilitation and a myriad of other weird and wonderful witchcraft.

Where P2V was intense in terms of deep questions; “why are you doing this?” “how will you cope?” etc SKWID was intense in terms of the volume of participation required. This time when we broke off into groups it was to prepare and deliver our own “facilitations” rather than just to discuss a topic.

My two facilitations went badly and not-as-badly in that order which at least shows progress of a sort. Apparently I have a tendancy to gibber quickly without much sense and cut people off. Pah. There was more but I’d cut them off. On the positives I was told I’ve a “dynamic personality”. I was all pleased until I looked it up in the VSO glossary and it simply says “bit of a git”. Oh well, at least my group were very gracious and we got through it all to conclusion both times. Whoopie.

I led an “energiser session” based on binary maths first thing in the morning which earned me nothing but love from fellow participants (though they did have a strange way of showing it). On the sage-like advice received in the bar the night before I didn’t do my thirty minute preable on the meaning of the game and this saved me an actual lynching. How we laughed.

On Monday after the second “facilitations” we danced in a circle to the sound of a trumpet (really), exchanged emails and scattered.

That should be the last time I see Harborne Hall until perhaps a returned volunteer thing if I get that far! It’s a wonderful place full of nooks and crannies all with their own odd smells of stale something and aged statues peeking out. The staff again were wonderful even cooking us a Christmas dinner on the Saturday night. They coped especially well given the unexpected influx of approximately four and a half billion small children that weekend as well as us.

Back to reality with the realisation that with two days to go I hadn’t bought a single present.

Highlighted Learning Point

I need to speak slooooooooowly and clearly and spend less time gibbering incoherantly.

New Goal

Same goal – don’t become a case study.

Knowledge Gained

Teachers (and especially head teachers) continue to have a psychic hold over me gaining instant obedience and quiet with just “that look”.

H is the hour, D is the day

December 10, 2008

From the VSO travel department:

  • Depart Heathrow 1800 Saturday 7th March 2009 on an Airbus A340-600
  • Arrive Johannesburg 0725 Sunday 8th March 2009
  • Duration 11 hours 25 minutes
  • Depart Johannesburg 1055 Sunday 8th March 2009
  • Arrive Windhoek 1255 Sunday 8th March 2009
  • Duration 2 hours

So we can do the following calculation:

  • Total time in the air: 13 hours 25 minutes
  • Total time of airport-airport travel: 16 hours 55 minutes
  • Other travel time roughly: Norwich – Heathrow 5 hours, early checkin etc 3 hours, airport to Windhoek proper 1 hour. Total 9 hours not including customs or delays.

And give an estimated total travel time: 25 hours 55 minutes

Norwich – Windhoek in just a bit over a day. Where are the high speed transonic airliners we were promised? This is the year 2008 damn it.

T minus 90 days – Progress (of a sort)

December 10, 2008

Ok so there is under 90 days to go – woo hoo! Some progress (of a sort) is finally being made…

Medical Complete and X-Ray Authorised

Finally! A lovely doctor who knows quite a bit about VSO (“my brother did VSO, of course he had to come back after 2 months with an infected abscess”) has done my medical and pronounced me fit (enough for VSO), told me I am a fat bastard (though to be fair didn’t use those precise words) and cleared me of retardation as required for the visa (yes that surprised even me – the clearance that is).

I now have the completed forms and an authorisation for a chest X-ray which I’ll book tomorrow.

The only slight worry was the “oh you need a rabies vaccination do you, oh dear” but apparently it’s “much better than it used to be”. Anyway I’m doing SKWID two days after my first rabies shot so it’s not like I need to be on the ball for it (ahem).

Travel Confirmation… Twice

Got an email from the VSO travel team confirming arrangements for the 7th of January. As I’m working toward departure on the 7th of March and would have had to hand my notice in yesterday this could be a bit of a problem. Quick email back and a call from a nice chap in the travel team confirmed this was a mistake (bloody computers) and it’s on for March not January.

Better than a mate from assessment and P2V who (before getting offered any placements at all) received an email saying “Dear Sarah, this is to confirm your placement in The Gambia”. Oh perhaps I should say that HIS name isn’t Sarah (well at least not since the op :o).

Where for art thou CRB?

Stuff I’m being slack on is easy to ignore or justify the delay in some spurious way. Stuff I have no control over is harder not to fret about. I am now well over six weeks waiting for the CRB which is now doing it’s “enhanced” rounds to see if the police have any information not on their computers they would like to share (or just tell VSO about secretly).

I have been using the time constructively by reading internet horror stories of incredibly lengthy delays and random crimes showing up (bloody computers). So it’s either sat gathering dust in some overworked policeman’s (or police lady’s… perhaps I’ll just say police person’s) intray or at this moment being flagged up by SOCA because of the activities of an unrelated namesake with an interest in other people’s money and possessions.

If anyone is interested the process is: apply (much detail), checked against police computer, checked against various other scarily entitled lists of very bad people, send to police for indeterminate time for “relevant information not contained on computer” to be added (the difference between standard and enhanced checks and where my application is now) then finally (so I’m told) printed and dispatched to you and your employer (VSO in my case).

Flat Notice

Made contact with my landlord but didn’t all go as hoped. Apparently I have to give a “clear calendar month” of notice so I can’t quit until the end of January (3 weeks behind schedule). I also have to allow “viewing access” towards the end which will be a hassle.

I don’t remember that from taking out the tenancy though and there’s a chance that I’m on an older contract having been here for a few years. I’m going down tomorrow to see. I think if I do have to keep the flat until the end of Jan I’ll still quit everything and move out mid-Jan. They can then show people around the empty flat and I’m not paying still for council tax, gas, electric, phone, etc etc.

Much Paperwork Sent… Little Received

December 8, 2008

Today I sent off the first of many parcels of documents to VSO. They included:

  • Namibia Visa Application (completed as best I can)
  • Namibia Residence/Work Permit (ditto)
  • 3 x Photocopies of Passport
  • 10 x Passport Pictures – signed and printed on the back
  • 3 x Copies of Professional Certificates
  • Acceptance Form
  • Personal/Bank Allowance Details Form
  • Medical Insurance Form
  • Other Insurance Form
  • Emergency Contact Details Form
  • 3 x Copies of Reference from Current Employer
  • 3 x Copies of Birth Certificate (*)

* – for some reason (I think to do with always wanting a girl) my parents had at some point ripped in half and then washed my “long” birth certificate. I think I lost my “short” some time ago though they may have just washed that as well. What I’ve sent is a dodgy photocopy of the left and right third of the certificate with just the middle third missing. I have applied for replacements (3+ weeks) and will just have to hope the dodgy one will do for now.

I am still outstanding a professional reference from my previous job and of course the CRB check. Apparently on the 23rd of December I will be allowed to “prioritise” it though the chap seemed to infer the only purpose of “prioritisation” was to make people feel a bit better.

Dental booked for just over two weeks before I go away. Can’t be sooner (NHS rules) and can’t just go private (ethics or something). Waiting for VSO to decide if that is cutting it too fine or not.

The not-my-GP surgery I had found who agreed to do my medical still haven’t called to book it and tell me about the chest X-ray. No doubt when I call tomorrow they’ll have started a long major building project :o(

SKWID Booked and Visa Hell

December 1, 2008

The next mandatory course (and hopefully last) with VSO, Skills for Working in Development (SKWID), is booked for the 18th to the 22nd of December. It kicks off with a half-day Health and Security thing followed by four days “more intense than P2V”, oh jolly good then.

Nobody else from my P2V seems to be going to the same session but a couple are going out to placements as early as January! Makes me feel like I have all the time in the world to complete…

THE VISA APPLICATION FROM HELL

Well perhaps not but still; very long and complex. All still hinges on the never-arriving CRB, medical of as-yet-undetermined-date, and the not-yet-booked chest x-ray. Oh and probably a million more things. And I’ve got to sign it in front of two witnesses.

I’m bound to screw one of the forms up.

Oh well.